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Build Bridges Not Walls Essay Contest

Summary of

Bridges Not Walls

By John Stewart

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium


Citation: Bridges Not Walls. John Stewart, ed. 6th edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 526 pp.


The essays in Part One focus on the basic elements of communication. Three readings serve to introduce the relational approach to interpersonal communication. In his Introduction, Stewart argues that one's quality of life is directly connected to one's quality of communication. More than just the exchange of information, communication is a person-building activity. Subsequent readings explore both the verbal and non-verbal elements of communication.

Part Two focuses on the input or perception side of communication. The first set of readings discusses the awareness of one's own values, and the awareness of one's own actions and responses within communication. Many specific barriers to communication are described. The next set of readings focuses on the awareness of others. The authors discuss the subjective nature of perception and the ways in which stereotypes structure perceptions of other individuals, of relationships, and of social events. The last readings in this section address listening. Essays describe common misconceptions about listening, and describe the kinds of responses that indicate effective listening. The final essay presents a new, dialogic approach to listening.

Part Three addresses self expression and self disclosure in communication. Authors discuss the uses of I-statements and you-statements, and the paradoxical power of vulnerability. They also introduce guidelines for more effective self-expression. This topic concludes with an essay which argues that open honest communication may, in certain situations, do more harm than good. Subsequent readings explore different expressive styles, and particularly gender differences.

The readings in Part Four apply the findings from earlier sections to particular types of interpersonal communication: friendships, family relationships, and intimate relationships. The first set of readings discusses communication in the context of relationships, examines relationships as a process of negotiation, and explores communication as a person-building process. Subsequent readings discuss friendship, families, and intimate relationships more specifically.

Part Five explores conflict and communication across cultural differences. The first set of readings distinguishes productive from destructive conflicts, and describes some of the processes by which conflict become destructive. These readings also distinguish between defensive and supportive conflict climates, and explore ways of dealing with anger. The second set of readings explores the problems encountered in communicating across differences. Essays address cultural, ethnic, racial, age, sexual orientation, and disability differences.

Part Six explores various overall approaches to interpersonal communication. C. Roland Christiansen takes a teacher's approach to interpersonal communication. Carl Rogers discusses interpersonal communication from a psychotherapist's perspective. Martin Buber takes a philosophical approach. Each of these essays offers a different synthesis of the issues and techniques discussed in the earlier sections.

Society has undergone a massive change in the last few decades, with respect to both economic and social environment. And this change has affected people of all age groups, starting from children and adolescents to the young, middle aged and old. The pressures to perform either at school/college level

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or at jobs are enormously high. Tinged with competition, technological advancement as well as the increasing materialism, and hence with changing norms for social status and respect has set people into a mad frenzy of desires.

With these changing definitions, people now are unable to define needs, wants & desires. What maybe was a luxury in yesterday’s generation is a need in today’s generation. But what people fail to understand is “Desires are many, needs are few. Needs can be fulfilled; desires never. A desire is a need Bone crazy. It is impossible to fulfill it. The more you try to fulfill it, the more it goes on asking and asking’” So in this mad frenzy of satisfying desires people forget the one of the basic needs for mental stability and peace…a healthy relationship.

Man is a social animal and this is important for his survival and he is neglecting almost all relations-“Parents, friends, siblings,children etc, but the most prominent failing relation is between a man and a woman, be it husband & wife or a relationship. As per laws of nature its natural that a man and a woman develop an attraction which sometimes culminates into a relationship and sometimes ends in marriage, but we are seeing increasing number of broken marriages ,wherein there are irreconcilable differences between a couple and they carry on due to some binding factors like children or society.

Sometimes these broken marriages end in divorce and sometimes don’t. The same happens to relationships too and people flit from one relation to another trying to find that deluding peace and happiness. Failure of relationships & marriages-WHY: We believe that if we have someone who wants the same things as we do, it would be a happy relationship. We believe in an

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overtly romantic ideal which sets us up for disappointment.

Having chosen each other on the basis of similarity we have no skills to resolve the differences that inevitably emerge between any two people, and our romantic spirit is crushed as easily as a paper bag. We avoid conflict when we should be training ourselves on its barbs. We have come to think of compromise as a dirty word. When in fact you get nowhere in real life without it. We look for partners who give us no problems, rather than partners we are good at overcoming problems with. We fail to understand that a man & woman are basically different, not only physically but emotionally as well.

Their reaction to a situation or an approach to a problem is always different, and it requires a great deal of patience & understanding to bridge this communication gap between a man and a woman. When a relationship culminates into marriage, and a couple stay together, these inevitable differences crop up more, and things, which looked trivial or were not noticed in the relationship phase, now come into the forefront and slowly look like major hurdles, which couples find difficult to cope up.

Instead of accepting each other, they set about finding flaws and try to make the other person think and behave like them. The undying frenzy in this age of materialism, adds to this, comparisons in social circles take place, expectations arise giving rise to ego, and the couple slowly start drifting apart mentally and emotionally and an invisible and impregnable wall is built between them. Not to mention many a times that also parents from either side are fuelling factors in this.

The boy’s parents are still bound mentally in their times and they are unable to cope up with these changing times, and have expectations as were expected of them during their times , sometimes trivial issues becoming major factors for a break up. I personally know of a issue in my friend’s family, wherein an argument broke over an issue, of excessive salt being put in Dal. The argument took such major proportions, and so many other underlying issues came up that my friends elder brother and sister in law left the house and took up a house outside and separated.

Funny and sad too. But what needs to be introspected, is what proportions a trivial issue took to. Was it really worth it? An issue of momentary discomfort which could have been just ignored. So also the girl’s parents in a bid to be over protective about their daughter keep interfering in her family life and adding fuel to fire. I know of another trivial issue which could have been solved between a couple, but because of the interference of the girl’s parents, which further fuelled the ego in both sides, and it finally ended in a divorce.

So what are the basics to keep a relationship or marriage ticking:

1) Both need to accept that however similar interests they share, they are basically two different individuals, hence differences are bound to crop up sooner or later. Also like some famous author said “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”.. hence their emotional psyches are different and this needs to be kept in mind.

2) Women need to understand a man more than loving him and a Man needs to love a woman more rather than trying to understand her .

3) Both need to keep in mind that only both of them can solve their differences and adjust. Family or friends cannot do it for them. At best family or friends can be helpful in cooling down a highly volatile situation.

4) They should think that we see right or wrong from our point of view.. when we understand a person and think from that person’s shoes we may think otherwise.

5) Most of the times, a woman doesn’t want a solution rather she wants a sympathetic ear, so men have to listen more and offer less solutions. Rather a sympathetic ear and small tokens of affection works. Women also need to understand a man’s need for his family and friends too. Its common knowledge that men form more die hard friendships then women and women need to understand that, when a man loves his parents or siblings or his friends and spends time with them too, it doesn’t mean he loves her less.

6) However arguments and fights are natural. Both should understand that they are in a way healthy and most of the issues are mundane. Hence they should learn not to carry it to the future. It should be dropped there and then. Please remember that, if we hold on to the past, then we can’t move forward.

7) If a relationship culminates in marriage, then the woman has to accept that like her parents and siblings are an inseparable part of her, so also are the boy’s parents and siblings are inseparable parts of him. Since parents belong to a different generation, there will be differences, but the solution doesn’t lie in drifting apart. It lies in accepting them as they are and keeping communication clear with your spouse and with his help bridging that gap. There can also be closed room, open discussion between the boy and his father to find ways to close this gap.

8) So also the boy has to understand that the girl’s parents mean the same to her and hence he shouldn’t unduly restrict her or interfere in regards to her parents. He should also respect her parents as he does his own but take caution that, they don’t interfere in their married life.

9) Parents also on the other hand, need to be made to understand either through counseling or in open minded discussions to accept either son in law or daughter in law as they are, in order to keep peace in the family.

“Expectation instead of acceptance leads to problems” is something needed to be understood by the couple as well as the parents. “Build bridges not walls” Finally after taking care of these basics, if still there are irreconcilable differences between a couple, which are a constant source of tension and is detrimental to mental peace and development, and the couple is finding it difficult to carry on, then its best to end the relationship or marriage amicably, rather than suffering continuously or mud slinging at each other. Remember “A momentary pain is better than a life long suffering”.

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